Women Physician Leaders: Northeast Ohio Hospitals Boast Gender Diversity

By Deborah Grant
Monday, May 13, 2019

A study released late in 2018 by the Women’s Network of Northeast Ohio found that in the region, women are underrepresented in senior leadership roles.

The report, “Women’s Network Gender Equity and Female Leadership Research Study,” was commissioned two years ago to discover how women locally were faring in leadership roles compared to national averages. The data came from reviewing 5,000 senior leaders across 348 employers (private corporations and public companies) and 167 nonprofit organizations in Northeast Ohio.

And, this is a trend seen in the healthcare industry as well. Consider some facts. Since the mid-1980s, women have accounted for at least 40% of U.S. medical students. In 2018, more women than men were enrolled in U.S. medical schools. And though women represent more than a third of all working physicians (34%) in the U.S., gender parity is still not reflected in medical leadership. Today, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report study, women account for only 18% of hospital CEOs and 16% of all department chairs and deans in the country — positions that typically direct the mission and control the resources at health systems and academic medical centers.

Fortunately, in the Northeast Ohio healthcare market, there are signs of more gender diversity with a number of women physicians as leaders within their organizations.


Beri Ridgeway, MD


Margaret McKenzie, MD


Rebecca Starck, MD


Cathy Sila, MD


Vivian von Gruenigen, MD

Cleveland Clinic recently announced the appointment of Beri Ridgeway, MD, as chair of its Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute. In this capacity, Dr. Ridgeway oversees more than 415 caregivers, including ultrasound technicians, embryologists, nurse practitioners and nurses, and 148 staff physicians who comprise Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Ridgeway joined Cleveland Clinic as a staff physician in the department of obstetrics and gynecology in 2009. The following year, she received a joint appointment in the Center for Geriatric Medicine and the department of urology. She was associate fellowship director for the Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS) fellowship from 2010 to 2015.

“I am honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of Drs. Falcone, Belinson, Ballard, and Krieger as an OB-GYN chair at Cleveland Clinic,” Dr. Ridgeway said. “I look forward to working with our caregivers to continue to provide the best medical care to our patients. Our institute is made up of dedicated caregivers and I am committed to helping each one of them grow in their personal and professional lives.”

Also at Cleveland Clinic, Margaret McKenzie, MD, is the President of Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital (Warrensville Heights). Dr. McKenzie became president of Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital in 2017 and made her first priority to grow patient volume. In her role, she developed a leadership team and transformed hospital culture. She joined Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute in 1995 and became section head of general obstetrics and gynecology in 2008.

And, Rebecca Starck, MD, is president of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital. Dr. Starck oversees the 212,000-square-foot Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, which opened in 2016 as Cleveland Clinic’s first internally built regional hospital. Dr. Starck led the design, programming and construction of the hospital and is responsible for developing practice culture. She previously served as chair of the department of regional oncology at Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Institute.

At University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Cathy Sila, MD, serves as chair of the Department of Neurology. Dr. Sila is the Gilbert W. Humphrey Professor of Neurology and has served as the Vice Chair for Clinical Activities and Quality since 2014. She is the Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at UH Cleveland Medical Center and UH System Stroke Program, which was recognized as a model of system integration for care delivery.

“As the first woman to chair the Department of Neurology at UH, her priorities include ensuring access to innovative, high-value care integrated throughout the health system, supporting the provider-patient relationship and experience, training the next generation through the many fellowships and second-largest neurology residency program in the country, and promoting research that improves the quality of life for patients with neurologic diseases,” said Daniel I. Simon, MD, President of UH Medical Centers.

Vivian von Gruenigen, MD, is another University Hospitals physician leader, serving as its Regional CMO of Cleveland Ahuja Medical Center (Akron, Ohio). Before joining the 144-bed community hospital last year, Dr. von Gruenigen was medical director of women’s health services for Summa Health System and chair of its OB-GYN departments at the Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals. Previously, she was director of robotic surgery at Cleveland-based University Hospitals Case Medical Center. She has been named one of the best doctors in America by the Consumers Research Council of America and one of America’s top oncologists by Cleveland magazine.

At MetroHealth, Christine Alexander, MD, serves as Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Director of Maternal and Neonatal Service for the Department of Family Medicine. Prior to these appointments, Dr. Alexander was Director of Obstetrical Education from 1997 to 2003, Residency Director of the Department of Family Medicine from 1998 to 2004, and Clerkship Director for Family Medicine from 2006 to 2010.

Melissa Kline, NDP, RN, NEA-BC, is MetroHealth’s Senior Vice President – Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer. In this role, Melissa partners with the Vice President, Hospital Operations, to oversee MetroHealth’s inpatient facilities. These include main campus, Old Brooklyn Campus, and the Parma and Cleveland Heights Medical Centers. In addition, she oversees all aspects of nursing practice for the system.

At Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Aida Safar, MD, is Chair, Department of Pathology. She is the immediate past president of the medical staff.

It seems in healthcare in Northeast Ohio, women physicians are making strides, finding themselves in leadership roles, a good sign of progress toward increased diversity in our industry.